Smibert, John

Smibert or Smybert, John

(both: smī`bərt), 1688–1751, American portrait painter, b. Scotland, the first skillful painter in New England. After his apprenticeship to an Edinburgh house painter, he went to London. There he studied art, made a trip to Italy, then returned to London, where he had small success. He emigrated (1729) to America with Dean (later Bishop) Berkeley, who had persuaded him to teach art at his college in Bermuda, though the plan did not materialize. After a stay in Newport, R.I., Smibert went to Boston. There in 1730 he assembled probably the first art show in America. He married an heiress, became a successful portrait painter, and won considerable social standing. Among his works are portraits of Judge Edmund Quincy (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston) and Peter Faneuil (Mass. Historical Society, Boston). Harvard, Bowdoin, and other institutions house examples of his formal portraiture. Yale owns the first important portrait group painted in America, Smibert's Bishop Berkeley and His Entourage (1731), including a self-portrait. The artist's influence is evident in the work of such early Americans as Copley, Washington Allston, and John Trumbull.

Bibliography

See study by H. Foote (1950, repr. 1969).

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Smibert, John

(1688–1751) painter; born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He began as a house and coach painter, moved to London (1709), studied portrait painting, moved to Italy (c. 1717–20), and came back to London (1720–28). Emigrating to Newport, R.I., with Bishop Berkeley (1729), he painted his most famous work, Dean Berkeley and His Entourage (1729). In 1730 he moved to Boston to spend the next 18 years mainly doing portraits, which were somewhat awkward in style, of upper-class Massachusetts colonists. He designed Faneuil Hall, Boston (1740–42), his sole architectural work.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.